|Published on: May 2, 2007|
|When a driver in Burkina Faso stops his vehicle to lower its windows and start insulting a kid on his bicycle for no apparent reason, when two coworkers constantly insult each other over meaningless habits, or when you overhear a debate between these two on who is the other’s slave, especially in a culture known for the importance of “saving face”, one is tempted to expect an incessant civil war outbreak. Wrong.
There exists an institution in Burkina Faso called “parenté à plaisanterie”, (joking extended family), and it is stronger at maintaining peace than virtually any diplomatic effort. It is manifested by pacts of mutual non-aggression, participation in each other’s sacred rite, moderation in conflictual situations and teasing on characteristic. Every citizen is part of this system through its ethnic group, clan, city of residence or family name and engages this game many times a day with its two or three allies. Joking parents can be determined in many ways, although it is mostly determined by legends or historical events that tied or antagonised two ancestors, such as given favors or conflict.
In practice, certain taboos are associated between joking parents, such as the interdiction of intermarriage, and to insult over physical features or to make the other bleed. It also creates stereotypes, for example the Sambla as peanut and potato eaters, the Dioula as thieves, the Bobo as caterpillar roaster, the Lobi as rude millet-beer drinkers and dog eaters. Some groups, such as the Peuls (nomad group engaged in cattle herding) are systematically rendered ridiculous and stigmatised.
The “parenté à plaisanterie”, is a cathartic alliance; whenever a tension arise, all that is needed is for one of the involved actor or for a precise mediator to start teasing, thus using humor to evacuate frustration, and the problem is gone. Those who violate the unspoken rules of alliance by refusing to pardon a parent’s mistake is potentially vulnerable for maledictions. In such a diverse country (Burkina Faso counts 61 sociolinguistic groups) in which the political power is concentrated in the hands of the Mossi, the military power in the hands of the Lobi and in which the living conditions in the former vibrant capital, Bobo-Dioulasso, is deteriorating as a result of centralisation and the conflict in the neighbouring Ivory Coast, this institution prevents the worst from happening. According to the ethnograph Alain Joseph Sissao, the practice of “parenté à plaisanterie” in a country like Burkina Faso allows the society to deal with several issues such as clientelism, nepotisme, clanism, tribalism, regionalism, and all others that are contrary to profound values of friendship and fraternity between families (Sissao, 2002).
As many aspects from tradition, “parenté à plaisanterié” risks a gradual decline in popularity with the advance of modernity, although events are created to promote its revival, for the very reason that, in maintaining such a system, the country inhabitants prefer to see difference as something enriching rather than letting it trigger intolerance and exclusion.
Sissao, Alain Joseph (2002). Alliances et parentés à plaisanterie au Burkina Faso : Mécanisme de fonctionnement et avenir, Sankofa & Gurly Editions, Ouagadougou, 186 p.